WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The possibility of consolidating schools across county lines brought School Building Authority Executive Director Mark Manch into the Putnam County Board of Education's regular meeting Monday night.
Manchin told the board the authority would be more likely to fund a new school consolidating Leon Elementary in Mason County and Buffalo Elementary in Putnam County than to pay for renovations or new facilities for either school individually.
He terms this type of project "blurring county lines."
"The School Building Authority is continuing to encourage a number of different ways to be more efficient," Manchin said. "We are starting to prioritize counties that take a look at (cross-county consolidation)."
The idea is still in its earliest stages, though the Putnam County board did move to hire an architect to begin putting together information for a proposal.
"We are proposing to hire an architect in the event that we move forward to guide us," Hatfield said.
The deadline to apply for funding from the authority is in December, so the project would have to come together quickly. Hatfield told the board he would call Mason County's superintendent today to invite their board to Putnam County's next meeting.
The Mason County Board of Education is scheduled to meet tonight.
Only one other project like this exists in the state: a consolidated elementary school in Lewis and Gilmer counties is under construction now. That building is actually on the county line.
State code has allowed for such projects for more than a decade though, and several counties share vocational schools.
But cross-county consolidations are a politically tough sell.
Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason, who represents a district that includes parts of Mason, Putnam and Jackson counties, attended Monday night's meeting to express concern and frustration from his constituents.
"Everyone wants a new school, but the teachers are worried if they did consolidate would everyone keep their jobs?" Cadle said.
Cadle asked how it could be cheaper to build one big school than to upgrade two smaller buildings.
Manchin said that the cost of renovating old buildings can be more than building new facilities. They often need infrastructure updates like electrical wiring and HVAC.
Lisa Handley, Leon's postmaster, also attended to ask the board for more details.
Though the board usually doesn't respond to individuals who speak at board meetings, Board President Butch Legg told her that the project is in such an early phase that those answers aren't available yet, and no firm plans have been made.
"It may not go anywhere," Hatfield said. "There just hasn't been anything to tell at this point other than there has been some discussion about the possibility."
Hatfield added that most of the details about personnel, governance and oversight of the school have been outlined in a memorandum of understanding.
For example, teachers at a consolidated school would retain seniority in both counties.
One county would be designated the "sender" and the other would be the "receiver." The receiver county would receive students from the sender county, as well as funding for those students according to the state school aid formula.
The school would have a governing committee including representatives from both county boards of education.
Buffalo Elementary is about 3 miles from the county line and has about 250 students, and Leon Elementary is about 7 miles from the county line and has about 150 students.
Neither school meets the economy of scale requirement to receiving funding from the school building authority on their own, though each county could decide to use local funds to replace the schools.
Putnam County Superintendent Chuck Hatfield said the county has no major plans for Buffalo Elementary.
Mason County has submitted Leon Elementary to the school building authority for the past several years, but it hasn't received funding and is unlikely to this year on its own, Manchin said.
"The authority members make that decision," Manchin said.
In other news, the board:
* Accepted the resignation of board member Deborah Phillips. She served for 12 years and is stepping down for a career opportunity, according to a release.
The board will accept applications for candidates to serve the rest of her term, which ends next June. Applications are due by 4 p.m. Oct. 18 at the central office. Candidates cannot be from District 3 as the board already has two members from that district.
* Approved the superintendent's goals for 2013-14, which include implementation of the Bring Your Own Device initiative.
* Suspended Melissa Thorner, a teacher at Hurricane Middle School, for insubordination and violation for the employee code of conduct.